A rare defense of Israel
October 14, 2009
The million-to-one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar. Vanessa Redgrave defended Israel.
In a surprising denouement to the Toronto International Film Festival story, the actress remembered for her attack on “Zionist hoodlums” defended the festival’s special series showcasing Israeli films about Tel Aviv. A group of actors and artists had condemned the series, saying it served Israel’s “propaganda” purposes. But in a letter in The New York Review of Books, Redgrave, along with artist Julian Schnabel and playwright Martin Sherman, describes the protest as “improperly thought out” and as having “distressing implications.”
True, Redgrave’s statement is hardly a love letter. She writes of the “injustice and cruelty inflicted upon the Palestinians over decades” without acknowledging Israeli suffering or Palestinian terrorism. She comes close to both downplaying the Holocaust and equating the Jews’ treatment under the Nazis with the Palestinians’ treatment under Israeli control.
But her letter does call on her fellow artists to distinguish between Israelis and their government and to recognize Israel’s robust internal debate. The artists engaged in this debate “should be applauded and encouraged,” she writes. “Their presence and their continued activity is reason alone to celebrate their city.”
Redgrave also objects to the original protesters’ assertion that “Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages.” She doesn’t think the statement is false, mind you, but feels it is no more relevant than saying America is built on “obliterated Indian property.” Her point is that her fellow artists should not make Israel feel insecure by suggesting it should not exist. “If attitudes are hardened on both sides, if those who are fighting within their own communities for peace are insulted, where then is the hope?” she writes. “The point finally is not to grandstand but to inch toward a two-state solution and a world in which both nations can exist, perhaps not lovingly, but at least in peace.”
It’s a sign of the times that a Jewish newspaper should feel partly grateful for a statement from a famed pro-Palestinian activist that accuses Israel of “apartheid” and possibly worse. But let’s count it as progress, amid increasing calls for anti-Israel boycotts, that a fixture on the Left recognizes Israel’s right to exist, and acknowledges the humanity of its citizens.